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August 17, 2019 Basic meal planning

When you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it's natural to have questions about what food to eat. Each person with diabetes is different and there is no single diet that suits everyone.

In fact, there are several different eating patterns that you may choose to follow such as the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet. Whatever diet you decide to follow, the idea is to choose foods that help you to do the following:

  • manage your blood glucose (sugar)
  • manage your weight
  • manage your blood pressure level
  • manage your cholesterol
  • reduce the risk of diabetes complications like stroke or heart attack

A registered dietitian can give more specific advice and help you plan meals to achieve your goals. Until then, use this basic meal planning information for guidance. 

Healthy eating tips for diabetes

Food is the key to managing diabetes and reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other problems. There are many things you can do to change or improve your diet, but it’s important to avoid trying to change too many things at once.

Use the information below to pick 1 or 2 things you can do today to help you plan for healthier meals. Once you feel comfortable with the new changes, come back to this page and choose another healthy eating tip to work on.

Watch your portions

The amount of food you eat is important for diabetes management. Portion sizes are different for everyone, so what’s right for someone else might not be right for you.

Canada’s Food Guide suggests one way to plan your portions. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits, people with diabetes should choose more vegetables than fruit because most vegetables have less sugar. Divide the other half of your plate between protein food and whole grain foods.

Portion size is an important part of weight loss. If you're overweight or obese, weight loss is the most important and effective way to help normalize blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of other health problems. 

Eat healthy carbohydrates

It's true that all carbohydrates (carbs) affect your blood sugar, but it is a myth that people with diabetes are not “allowed” to eat any carbohydrate foods. The type and amount of carbohydrate you eat is what matters.

There are many healthy carbohydrates that are actually good for you. Low-glycemic index foods such as legumes, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables can help control blood sugar, protect you from heart disease and stroke, and can make you feel full longer to help with losing weight. Include more of these carbohydrates in your diet.

Eat more whole foods and less highly processed foods

Highly processed foods are foods and drinks that are prepared with excess sodium, sugar and saturated fat. Instead of highly processed foods, choose whole foods and prepare most of your meals at home.

Eat more vegetables and fruit

At each meal and as a healthy snack, choose fresh, frozen or canned vegetables and fruits. They are all healthy options. Eat whole or cut vegetables and fruits instead of drinking juices (fruit juice and fruit juice concentrates are high in sugar).

Limit sugars and sweets

Limit sugars and sweets such as regular pop, desserts, candies, jam and honey. The more sugar you eat, the higher your blood sugar will be. Other sweeteners can be useful if you choose to use them.

Be consistent with your carbs

Try to eat three meals per day at regular times and space your meals no more than six hours apart. Eating at regular times helps your body control blood sugar levels. It also helps to try to eat about the same amount of food at each meal, especially carbohydrates.

Consider learning about counting carbohydrates as the amount of carbohydrate eaten at one time is usually important in managing diabetes. Having too many carbohydrates at a meal may cause your blood sugar level to go too high, and not enough carbohydrate may cause your blood sugar to go too low, depending on the type of diabetes medication you take.

Choose “good” fats

Some fats are good for us. The good fats are found in foods like olive oil, canola oil, other vegetable oils, avocado, soft margarine, nuts, seeds, and oily fish like trout and salmon. These are called unsaturated fats.

Saturated fats on the other hand, can increase your cholesterol level and your risk of heart disease. Choose foods with saturated fat less often-butter, red meat, cakes, pastries, deep fried foods, high fat dairy products. Choose healthy proteins including plant-based protein and lower fat dairy products more often.

Drink water

Make water your beverage of choice. Water is a sugar-free and calorie-free way to quench your thirst and stay hydrated. Drinking regular pop and fruit juice will raise your blood sugar.

Alcohol can affect blood sugar levels and may cause you to gain weight; it is best to use alcohol in moderation.

Plan ahead for healthy meals

Planning healthier meals and snacks can go a long way to helping you reach your goals. Talk to your registered dietitian or health-care team about the amount of carbohydrates that are right for you and for help with meal planning. A weekly meal plan will help you shop for the right foods and encourage more cooking at home.

Diabetes-friendly recipes

You don't need to have diabetes to enjoy our recipes—anyone can enjoy these! Each recipe includes the amount of carbohydrate, sugar, fat, sodium and calories in each serving.

View recipes

Making healthy food choices

Learn to make healthier food choices with helpful tools and resources from Diabetes Canada.